Methane formed by the microbial decomposition of buried organic matter is virtually ubiquitous in the groundwaters of Illinois. Chemical and carbon isotopic compositions are reported for gas samples collected from over 200 private and municipal water wells and from 39 small gas wells completed in glacial deposits (drift-gas wells). Carbon and hydrogen isotopic data for methane, carbon dioxide and water show that these gases were formed by the carbon dioxide reduction pathway, the same mechanism which has been previously shown to be responsible for microbial methane formation in the marine environment. The isotopic composition of methane in these samples can be closely correlated with the chemical composition of the gas and with water chemistry. The data are interpreted as indicating that isotopically very light methane is found in waters where the residence time of groundwater in the methanogenesis zone was very short relative to the methane production rate. ?? 1988.